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Meet the lawyer

Rowena Page

Rowena Page

University: University of Cambridge
Degree: Law
Year of call: 2012
Position: Barrister

What attracted you to a career in law?

My interest in law began at school. Although I studied a range of subjects at A level, comprising both sciences and humanities, I knew fairly early on that I didn't want to pursue any of those specific subjects at university. I considered that law would offer a middle-ground in which I could combine the rules and logic-based approaches of my science subjects with the broader and more independent approach of my humanities subjects.

My decision proved to be the correct one and I found early on that studying law at university fulfilled the hopes that I'd had in choosing my degree subject.

While I enjoyed the academic side of my degree, the next step for me was to understand and appreciate how those lessons applied in practice. This understanding came, in part, from my involvement in mooting competitions, which also gave me early experience and training in advocacy.

Why barrister not solicitor?

It was my participation in mooting competitions that first made me consider that a career at the Bar might be something I would be interested in. I pursued that interest by doing a selection of mini-pupillages at different barristers' chambers. While each set was very different, something that I took away from all of my mini-pupillages was an impression of the independence that a career at the Bar could offer. This was something that I found particularly attractive, along with the broad potential for personal progression and development as an advocate that a career at the Bar inherently offers. I think that these elements can sometimes be lacking in the solicitors' profession, which is what ultimately swayed my decision.

How did you decide which chambers to apply to?

I made pupillage applications to a selection of commercial, commercial Chancery, and traditional Chancery sets. I did a lot of research about each set before making my applications and would highly recommend anyone applying for pupillage to do the same. If possible, it is also helpful to undertake a mini-pupillage at a set before applying for pupillage. Doing so offers the chambers an opportunity to get to know you and gives you an opportunity to get to know the chambers.

For me, living and working in London was very important, so I tailored by applications exclusively to London sets.

How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?

I did around five mini-pupillages and one vacation scheme before applying for pupillage. I think it is important to get some experience in both the solicitors' and barristers' professions before determining one way or the other, as that experience can help you to decide which career path is right for you. I enjoyed my vacation scheme, but found the way of life that I experienced during my mini-pupillages much more fulfilling. I also found that the approach to the law at the Bar was at times more rigorous and intellectually satisfying, and liked the prospect of being instructed on a case and seeing it all the way through to its conclusion  in court.

Completing a range of mini-pupillages at different chambers also gave me a much clearer idea of the way different sets operated and approached life at the Bar. I experienced a number of different practice areas and working cultures, which ultimately helped me to make the right career choice for me.

What do you think made your application successful?

Preparation is crucial. It is very important to spend enough time on your applications and covering letters, as any slight slip could be seen as a sign of under-preparation or sloppiness. Mistakes are easy to avoid just by spending sufficient time and effort to check your application.

Knowing about each set of chambers you apply to is also crucial. Again, this is simply a matter of preparation and research, but is worth doing - there is nothing worse than being in a pupillage interview and not having an answer to a question that you know you should know, and know you could find out in five minutes on the Internet. It is important to take the time to really familiarise yourself with the chambers and its practice areas properly.

It is essential to make yourself (and your application) stand out. A good way of doing this is to gain as much experience as possible from an early stage. This will show your interviewers that you have a genuine and continuing interest in the Bar. Activities such as mooting or debating are also a good way to show your commitment and proactivity.

How was your experience of pupillage?

Pupillage will always be a difficult and stressful time - it is essentially a year-long interview. Notwithstanding this, I genuinely enjoyed my pupillage at Enterprise and, as the only pupil at a very welcoming and supportive set, always felt that the door was open if I needed help. That made a real difference to my experience as a pupil.

I spent the first six months of my pupillage learning from my supervisors and assisting them wherever possible. I started practising in my second six. My introduction to practice was quite gentle and for the first few months I would appear in court once or twice a week for fairly brief, straightforward hearings. These early court experiences were a fantastic way for me to improve my advocacy skills and gain more confidence about appearing in court before taking on more challenging cases.

What might you do in a typical day?

Enterprise Chambers is a commercial Chancery set. For junior tenants, what that means in practice is that you will receive a large number of insolvency instructions. These are a key source of work and I am regularly instructed in bankruptcy and winding-up petitions and in the more complicated applications that flow from them. Landlord and tenant disputes also form a large of my practice, including applications for the possession or sale of properties and forfeiture proceedings. Alongside these specific areas, I also receive instructions on a wide range of general commercial and Chancery work. This can range from a contractual dispute between two small businesses to advising a beneficiary under a will as to their rights to contest it. I enjoy this range and think it is important during the early years of practice to experience as much as you can, and to build up a range of skills and knowledge.

I am usually in court four to five times a week, depending on the nature of the hearing. Hearings can range from a five-minute bankruptcy application to a full-day appeal or trial. If I have a heavy court day coming up, I often book out the day before to research, prepare and write my submissions. About two thirds of my practice is paperwork, which includes drafting opinions, defences and particulars of claims. I also regularly advise my clients by email or over the phone about litigation they are undertaking.

What has been the highlight of your time at the Bar so far?

A real highlight was winning my first appeal. It was the first appeal I had ever been instructed on and I was absolutely terrified! In particular, my opponent was a barrister with six or seven years' seniority over me, and the appeal concerned some fairly difficult legal issues. I worked extensively on my preparation in the days leading up to the appeal and was delighted when my side emerged successful. Winning that appeal felt like a real achievement, not only in that I had managed to deal with the legal complexity of the case, but also because I had overcome the intimidation of being on my own against a more experienced barrister. It was one of those moments where I felt that I really could do this job, and, with sufficient preparation, could do it well.

What do you most enjoy about your career and why?

I really enjoy the ability to work to my own timetable. Being self-employed means that if I need to leave chambers early, or arrive late, I can. Doing so might mean that I need to come in very early the next morning or work during the weekend, but these decisions on how I manage my time are up to me and I really appreciate the flexibility that gives me. I also love being in court - there's no thrill like it.

What makes your chambers stand out from the rest?

Enterprise has branches in Leeds and Newcastle, as well as London, so we are a fairly big set despite the fact that our London chambers is not as large as some. I actually think being spread across three locations makes us more cohesive and strong as a set, in that we share an ethos and range of disciplines despite each 'branch' acting independently. The breadth of Enterprise's practice is also great for juniors - not only are you able to experience a wide range of work, but you know that there is also always a more senior, specialist barrister available to ask for advice if you are having difficulty with any kind of case.

What advice do you have for budding barristers who are contemplating a career in law?

You must be clear on your motivation for wanting a career at the Bar. Being a barrister is a difficult career, and before embarking on applying for pupillage you have to be clear about whether you really want to do it. On the same note, determination is essential. In applying for pupillage you will face a lot of difficult experiences, disappointments and rejections. For people with strong academic records who are used to success, this can be an unusual and unnerving experience. You must remember, however, that being rejected by a particular set of chambers does not mean that you are unsuited to the Bar per se: it may just mean that the chambers you applied to wasn't right for you, or you for it. Different sets of chambers really do differ from each other and it is important for both parties to find the right fit. You also need to carry that determination into practice, as there will be disappointments where you feel the judge has made the wrong decision, or get shouted at by a judge for something that was not your fault. These experiences are just part and parcel of life at the Bar and you mustn't let it get you down.

What's your desert island disc?

Probably 'Romeo and Juliet' by Dire Straits - it always makes me smile and I can happily listen to it on repeat while I'm on my desert island!